Keyframes in video are as old as analogue Digital Video Effects (DVEs) from the 1980's. ADO Anybody? So as we lost 'tracks' in Final Cut Pro X to a better method way of working, can we also lose the dreaded keyframe as well? Tony Gallardo explores...
Who are you?
I’m a director /editor, I also do motion graphics and vfx…produce…assistant…make coffee….basically I like to get my hands in everything. I do different types of projects and usually at the same time, like Sizzle Reels, Tv Commercials, Testimonials, Promo Videos, Product Explainer videos, both production and post, you get the idea.
Each type of project changes and it’s requirements change with them, from completely finishing (final color and sound) to edit only gigs and mastering in separate coloring and audio packages with some hybrids of each. Final Cut Pro X handles these workflows and does it well.
I feel like this is a common practice for most X (and post) users, minus a few niche markets. The reason for this write up is the tremendous time saving opportunities Final Cut Pro X can give us when we need to animate titles, build mograph animations or just perform subtle transforms to live action footage.
You’d be surprised at how spoiled you will get not worrying about keyframes! I just want to get you in the mindset of thinking without keyframes when possible.
Previous to X, if I needed to animate titles, still images, graphics or whatever, I would mock up a timing of that animation in my editor of choice and know that it desperately needed to be done properly in a motion graphics package, like After Effects or similar.
Depending on the complexity of the effect, or mograph, some of that work was good enough or was-of-finish-quality, but most needed to be redone. Once I started using X, I realized I wasn't rushing out to AE as much, especially for simple titles or art cards. X was clean, easy to use and had proper tools for a quality delivery.
That started to save me time and especially made it easier and more efficient down the road when there were changes. Rather than having to go through the extra steps - AE, renders (more files, more data, rinse-repeat) to revise a clip, just revise what’s needed right inside FCPX and go. Don't get me wrong, I’m not saying that X completely stopped my usage of a dedicated motion graphic package, it just stopped me from wasting my time on titles/motion grfx that could now easily be taken care of inside X and be just as good as After Effects or Photoshop.
This really isn't any big news, Premiere has capabilities to relieve it’s siblings duties as well. So what am I getting at? What really separates FCPX and takes it to a whole new level, is animating without keyframes. I’m referring to it as the 'War on Keyframes.' Yes, that's right, I want to take keyframes out! No, not completely. But wouldn't it be great if for certain transforms or tasks we didn't need to use keyframes?
How We Keyframe
Here is an example, it's simple and not too complicated, animating a still image with scale. It takes two keyframes to lock it in time, a start and end keyframe. If we change the duration of that clip or add a transition, we need to adjust the keyframes accordingly. What would that image feel like at 2 seconds long? No…how about 2 sec and 12 frames?
Each time we change the clip, we have to adjust the keyframes or we visualize as best we can until we feel like it works, then we adjust the keyframes. What about adjusting the scale properties, we need to go to that keyframe and then adjust. Again, this is how it's been done for ages and most editors can make it happen relatively quick in practice, but it does add up over the course of an edit to a lot of time.
(Right click for larger images)
Look Ma! No Keyframes
What if we didn't have to worry about where the keyframes are in time or what value is assigned to that keyframe? Or not changing the value inbetween keyframes because it will add additional keyframes! What if all we worried about was how fast or slow the scale was and how long the clip should be?
With FCPX we can. No keyframes, just editing. Let FCPX calculate the scale for you. Add that transition, no keyframes to dig up, FCPX adjusts it for you. This saves some serious time.
Same applies for position transforms. Want your title (image/video) to fly in from the right, land on a mark, but still have a slow movement on the x axis…while slightly growing…then zoom out towards camera at the end? Done and still, NO KEYFRAMES.
Now let's say that your title is 4 seconds long, but in version three of your timeline, it needs to be 4sec and 12 frames long, just adjust the clip’s duration. Done. NO Keyframes! Wait…the client commented and said they want that title up for 6 seconds! You get the idea, adjust the clip/title duration and you're done. No keyframes to find, just a simple edit decision and now you're onto the next task.
This applies to any type of media, still images, video clips, titles, you name it. For corporate or product videos, I have created intricate title segments that have no keyframes, just copy and paste the segment and then change the text for the next segment. Oh and by the way, you can still re-position the text independently of the animations.
So when your new text is longer or shorter, you can adjust it’s position accordingly and not worry about the animation, AND NO KEYFRAMES! (Yes, changing the position of said text far enough and you will have to adjust the animation…of course. But…still, no keyframes :)
Need a plugin to spin a clip on its Y axis, zoom in on the Z axis while slightly moving up on the Y as well? Maybe also have a tilt-blur effect? That's exactly what I built for a video demo of screen grabs for an app. I even saved it along with a few stacks of other plugins and made a preset specifically for those types of clips. Doesn't matter how long the clip is, add a few frames-take some away, it dynamically adjusts. You just need to think about the pacing, isn't that refreshing.
Another thing to remember is when you copy and paste keyframes, you have to be conscious of where the playhead is on the clip when pasted. How will the timing of the keyframes from clip A work with clip B? Do they need adjusting afterwards? Multiply that by x amount of clips that need that treatment in the edit and it starts to add up.
This is the War on Keyframes, taking all these little clicks and extra steps out as much as possible and allowing you to just think about pacing, mood and story. Most of these transforms have options for how the properties behave over time as well. So there are options for ease in/out, accelerate/decelerate and the likes. It is so powerful once you realize how much time you save and how much faster you start to create.
So does this eliminate the need for keyframes altogether? NO, we still need keyframes, but it helps with how many we end up (not) creating. Sometimes we really need to dig in and have specific curves for keyframes or a tricky timing that’s needed. Go get it done. For the most part, animating without keyframes will get the job done well.
Again, I'm honing in on a philosophy that was designed to streamline what you do best, create. You can build pretty intricate mograph (text/image) animations all within FCPX and eliminate going to outside software. Keeping your clips timed directly to your timeline (music/vo) is powerful. Think, try, create. It really is that simple.
Don't worry about going to a different software package, then coming back. Make it inside FCPX. Again, not all animations or effects should be done in FCPX, I completely understand that. Some creative/design/videos requires a specific type of finesse or horsepower to be made in a different software package, no problem. I send out to AE, Fusion and Motion as needed for my projects, but only when i need to. That’s the beauty of it all.
I haven't mentioned one product or plugin for a reason. I really want you to see where I'm coming from first. When you're in a time crunch and you need to tweak something, it becomes much easier and faster with no (or less) keyframes. Especially if you have to go back out to another software package. Speed. Efficiency. So on with it. How do we go about our War on Keyframes exactly.
Natively, FCPX doesn't have behaviors. (Behaviors is a feature from Apple’s motion graphics software, Motion, that allows you to animate without keyframes) You have to import them from Motion to FCPX. Stop, don't act like its a pain, it's not. You do not need to know Motion or have it installed to work with them. There are a plethora of plugin options available that allow you to use behaviors in many many ways and install like any normal plugin.
The best way to get started is with Alex4D’s set of transform plugins. They are free and seriously, indispensable, I use his Grow/Shrink plugin in every project and they are free. He has a nice set of transitions to purchase that take behaviors to another level as well. You can also purchase finely crafted plugins like ADD MOTION from Ryan Welborn that have multiple levels of options and finesse. They are really powerful and you start to question the need to go out to a motion graphics software altogether. Almost.
MotionVFX has some really great sets as well, a ton. Bottomline, FCPX’s ecosystem is huge and offers many choices with different levels of complexity and performance. Jump in yourself, learn Motion and start making your own plugins. It will change your workflow, guaranteed. FCPX combined with Motion gives us no excuse to not shape our own destiny…(boy, I'm getting a little too excited, Destiny? Really?) Ok, maybe not your destiny, but pretty close lol. Again, this is not a tutorial on how to do something specifically, but a realization to a philosophy, Think, Create, Do.
Horses for Courses
So, we can animate properties without keyframes and save time and sanity. How does it apply to you. Well, it depends on your workflow. Where are you finishing (or onlining or final mixing, if you will) your video. This approach is perfect for projects that stay within FCPX. It can work when you need to deliver separate passes too, but you will need to make sure it fits inside that designated workflow/pipeline.
For example, if your cutting a TV show / Feature Film to be finished or onlined elsewhere, that workflow requires a specific pipeline versus a video that will be finished mostly inside FCPX. Not impossible, just needs to be mapped out. For most of my work, this is part of what makes cutting/designing/playing in FCPX so great. Not worrying about those keyframes. I appreciate and use keyframes, but only when the work requires me to go in deep and take advantage of their power.
Start with Alex’s set and move on up. Maybe peek into Motion too. Take it for a spin and see how far you can get animating without keyframes and don’t forget to tag it with #WarOnKeyframes!
Shout Out Yo
Real quick, this mindset is shared amongst hardcore FCPX users already whether they realize it or not. I did not come up with the tag #WarOnKeyframes, it was created by a very talented dude, Ben Brodbeck aka @benyzboy. Yes, I asked to use his tag for this :) Give him a shout out when you can. He knows alot about FCPX.
Shout out also to @Alex4D, @osmFCPX and @motionVFX for understanding and further developing these wonderful tools for us. Feel free to reach out and chat all things FCPX with me @Tomiga2. Until the next time, cheers.
For the past 15yrs I ran a production company here in South Texas, JEH Productions…Directing, Editing, Motion Design & Animations on the creative side to Producing, Budgeting, Account Executive'ng on the logistics/managing side. I really enjoy all the different aspects of brand advertising and content creation.
Tony Gallardo Tomigaworks.com